Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 15, 1999
Life as a lay missionary
By CELINE DANIS
Special to the WCR
I had been working as a lay missionary in Waslala, Nicaragua, with a grassroots women's association affiliated with the Catholic Church for only four months when I was asked by the mission team - the priest, the nuns and some locals - to join them on a 10-day mission.
We were to visit 10 of the 90 communities in the rural areas of Waslala. Traditionally, the mission team celebrates Mass with some of the 32,000 subsistence farmers who live in the area around an urban core called Waslala, which has an approximate population of 5,000.
Ninety-five per cent of these villages lack fresh drinking water and electricity. The people earn $1 per day and on average have only a Grade 2 education.
I accepted the invitation from the team to go on the mission. We left early the following morning because we had a long treacherous journey ahead. Because there are no roads accessible to vehicles leading up into the mountains, the mission team must travel by foot or on horseback.
The closest communities can be found as little as two hours from the town of Waslala, or as far as 12 hours away.
Traditionally, when the mission team arrives in a community, it is greeted by several men playing their guitars and women singing Church songs. However, this time we were received by men with guns dressed in black.
These men were either los ladrones - Spanish for robbers - or they might have been los armados - armed groups. Regardless, they had taken over the chapel where we were supposed to celebrate Mass.
I remember being told that they would not harm us and to continue with the talk on women's and children's rights in the chapel as I normally did before the Mass began. The armados watched me from a distance, but did not move or say anything.
During the celebration, they peered their heads into the chapel from time to time. At last the Mass was over, the priest spoke with one of them and then we made our way to the next community.
When we arrived in the neighbouring community, we were advised to bathe in the river as soon as possible because the armados or the ladrones were nearby. The women and I hurried off to the river. We bathed quickly fearing that the armed groups would arrive.
After we bathed, we ate the beans and rice we were served and decided to retire early. Fortunately, the armed groups were nowhere in sight for the rest of the mission nor did I encounter them for the remainder of my time in Nicaragua.
Life in Waslala held many challenges for me. Besides los ladrones, there was violence, poverty and daily challenges such as washing laundry by hand, riding on public transport, power outages and water shortages.
However, if I had not answered the persistent call to service and adventure in the developing world, and if I had not had the opportunity to live in solidarity with those who have so little, I would not feel the passion I feel now to assist them in their plight for justice, nor would I have grown personally the way I did.
I strongly believe that the local people with whom the lay missionary works play an important role in the transformation and growth of the lay missionary. The local people, especially those who have so little, showed me how to really give.
When we visited the poorest of the poor, in the mountain area, the community would always provide us with the best food they had even when they were having difficulty feeding themselves.
I recall when I was in the local hospital because I had drank some bad water and became ill. I was about to leave the hospital when an old woman from the rural area of Waslala, asked me if she could buy my sheet. So I gave it to her.
A negative experience - being in the hospital - turned into a positive one because I had the opportunity to give. Although, it was something small, it meant so much to that woman to have a clean sheet and it brought me so much joy.
When it was time for me to return home, after two years of service, I discovered I was not the same person I used to be. My experience in Nicaragua changed some of my values. I realize now how empty a life of consumerism is.
Also, I no longer feel I need to follow a prescribed way of living - that is, making a big salary, buying a car, getting married and so on. I am prepared to let God show me the path he has chosen for me, even if that is to give up everything to return to a developing country to assist people who have little and to contribute to a more just world.
Since I arrived home from Nicaragua, on Nov. 24 I have had the desire to continue my work by raising awareness of students and adults about Nicaragua and by fundraising. I speak of the poverty and of my experience as a lay missionary and the work I did with the women there.
I tell of the women who are the poorest of the poor, especially women who run single-parent households and who have an average of seven children each. I speak of the violence they experience.
As well, I speak about unsafe drinking water in the rural communities, and explain that 90 per cent of the diseases people get come from bad drinking water.
If you wish to have further information please write me at: Celine Danis, 12 Lake Wapta Rise S.E., Calgary, T2J 2M9.